- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 27, 2005

LONDON - A leading member of the Saudi royal family accused Israel of persistently destroying the prospects of peace in the Middle East as final preparations are made for this week’s London conference on the Palestinian issue.

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal told the Sunday Telegraph there were reasons to be optimistic about the prospects for peace, but that his main concern was “that the Israelis will not destroy the hope of this unique chance in history.”

The Saudi prince claimed that Israel had been responsible for the collapse of all previous attempts to resolve the dispute between the Israelis and Palestinians.

“You just have to go through history and see what they have done,” he said. “Their history is full of destroying the prospects of peace in the Middle East. We hope that this time they will not do it.”

Prince Saud also questioned whether Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was serious about resolving the Palestinian issue.

“We hope that age has given him wisdom,” he said. “Then he will see the wisdom of making peace rather than being responsible for the bloodshed he has caused over many years. But this remains to be seen.”

Referring to Mr. Sharon’s recent commitment to unilaterally withdraw Israeli settlers from the Gaza Strip, Prince Saud said Mr. Sharon “tells visitors that he is looking for his role in history as a peacemaker. I just hope he is not being cynical.”

Prince Saud was speaking during an official visit to London last week for talks with British officials prior to the conference. He said his discussions with Foreign Secretary Jack Straw had focused on attempts to introduce democracy to Saudi Arabia and cooperation in the war on terror.

Prince Saud, 65, has been running Saudi foreign policy for more than 30 years. Looking relaxed in an immaculately tailored English suit, he talked at length about the importance of resolving the Palestinian question if the West wants to win the war on terror.

“If this issue can be resolved, then many other issues will be resolved,” he said, adding that a settlement between Israel and the Palestinians “would help to restore trust” between the Middle East and the West.

Prince Saud conceded that there had been an improvement in Saudi-Israeli relations, to the extent that Israeli journalists now regularly write articles for Saudi newspapers and magazines.

“There are many Israeli journalists who write what is on their minds,” he said. “I have much admiration for writers in Israel.”

Prince Saud was eager to distance the Saudis from Washington’s claims that Iran is developing nuclear weapons. “We have asked them, and they have told us they are not developing these weapons, and so we believe them,” he said.

He said the main proliferation threat to the region was the estimated 200 nuclear warheads that Israel has developed.

“If we are going to do something about nuclear proliferation in the region, then we have to do something about this,” he said.

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